Case Study: My Dad’s Commute

I’m fascinated by the transportation choices people make. Why do some people accept expensive, time-consuming, annoying car commutes while others make the leap to biking, walking or taking public transit?*

Way back in September of this year, I had the chance to tag along on the commute of one my favorite cyclists who came over from the dark side: my dad. I snapped a few photos and got his take on driving vs. cycling, what holds us back and whether back sweat is really that big of a deal. I hope you enjoy it!

*Note: If you’re a former car commuter who made the switch to biking, or if you’re considering trying biking, or if you just want to talk about what a pain it is to cross 6th Street, I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment or email me at joanna dot trieger at gmail dot com. 

 

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One happy commuter!

Commuter: Kevin (my dad!)

City: Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek, Calif.

Commute Length: 2.5 miles one-way

Commute Seasons: Year-round

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The main boulevard that connects my dad to the bike path recently underwent a “road diet”: one car lane in each direction, a center turn lane, wide bike lanes in each direction and sidewalks with landscaping. This thoroughfare used to be pretty intimidating when I was a kid, but now it’s easily walkable, bikeable and crossable. Also note our speed: a nice easy pace for a morning commute!

My dad, Kevin, works for his local transit system and rides the train from my parents’ suburban city to his urban office every day. Until a few years ago, he used to bridge the gap – two miles from home to the train station – by car. Yikes!

Recent infrastructure improvements have turned the route from my parents’ house to the station into a bike commuter’s dream. Once you exit their low-traffic, slow-speed neighborhood, the entire route follows either on-street bike lanes or a series of separated bike/ped paths. Over- and underpasses allow cyclists to avoid navigating major roads, and secure bike lockers at the station are inexpensive.

All of these improvements, along with a healthy dose of persistent nagging from me, convinced Kevin to give cycling to the station a try. He got hooked right away, and now he’s a year-round bike commuter. I recently had the pleasure of tagging along for one of his commutes and getting him on the record about how he came around to biking.

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Chugging along on the canal trail.

When did you start bike commuting?

About two-and-a-half years ago.

You were fairly hesitant to start commuting to the station by bike. What held you back?

I can hardly remember now why I was so resistant. I think one issue was having a safe place to store the bike – I used to see bikes locked up at the station with seats missing, wheels missing, just the frame locked up, totally pillaged. I didn’t want to deal with that. I was also worried about getting too hot.

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Sunrise on the trail: not a bad way to star the day.

 

 

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Pointing out the suckers stuck in traffic. Our path cruises under and over the streets with heavy traffic, all the way to the station.

How did you get past those holdups?

For the theft issue, once they installed bike lockers and I figured those out, I was fine. As for getting too hot, it hasn’t really been a big deal. I installed a basket on the back of the bike to put my backpack in so I wouldn’t get sweaty, and then I just take it slow in the morning. I leave myself an extra few minutes and take my time. I could bike faster, but why would I when it’s such a nice time of day to ride? In the summer, I sometimes get a bit sweaty on the way home, but then I’m home and I change, so who cares?

 

 

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A bike and pedestrian bridge climbs over the six-lane thoroughfare below.

Financially, how does biking compare to driving?

The locker costs $0.05 per hour, and I lock it up for about 10 hours a day, so that’s about $0.50 per day. Just parking a car at the station costs $3.00 per day, and that’s before you think about the cost of gas and wear-and-tear. So I save $2.50 outright every time I ride my bike, and I’ve been doing this for two-and-a-half years. [Ed. note: conservatively, that’s savings of $500/year, or a total of $900/year when you factor in the gas and wear-and-tear costs of driving!] All the upgrades I’ve made to the bike – installing the basket, adding a bell and lights, adding a new leather seat – have been completely paid for, as have the bike-specific clothes I’ve bought, like my wind jacket. Financially, it’s a total no-brainer.

 

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A bike and pedestrian bridge climbs over the six-lane thoroughfare below. Kevin points out the unfortunate drivers.
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Cruising down the bridge toward the station, lit up in the background.

Do you miss your car commute at all?

Not in the slightest. I never really thought about it much, but I didn’t like it. It was stressful to get on the road first thing, and parking was annoying. Now I love my commute. It’s just great to be outside for that bit of time in the morning and get moving. Even when the weather’s bad, I find it fun to be out in it. When you factor in parking, the time difference between my car and bike commutes is negligible, and that’s giving myself time to ride slowly and enjoy it.

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Bike Link lockers at the BART station. These secure lockers rent out for $0.05/hour, or $1.20 for 24 hours. My dad usually leaves his bike for ~10 hours, or $0.50/day. In contrast, parking a car at the station costs $3.00/day.
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Happy bike snuggled in its Bike Link locker.

Thanks for having me along, Kevin/dad! If any other bike commuters want to share their motivation for getting started, let me know if the comments or contact me at joanna dot trieger at gmail dot com.

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